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Pickle Me This

June 5, 2015

Happy Birthday, Iris

IMG_20150313_121516“You are mighty, you are small. You are ours after all.” 

Two years ago today, the world delivered us the funniest little person. Two weeks late, covered in peeling skin like a reptile, and with two teeth coming in already. Received into a family that was ready for her, waiting for her, and was made complete once she was finally here. “I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words, how wonderful life is while you’re in the world,” is the song I sang to her first when she was four days old (while I was eating sashimi in bed, Stuart was hanging laundry, and Harriet was doing her Thomas the Tank Engine sticker book), and I’ve sang it every day ever since.

She is ferocious, and very noisy, and perhaps the mostly likely person in the world not to be lost in Harriet’s shadow. She pinches, bites and spits, which is charming. When she behaves badly, we’ve been telling her to go away, but now she’s started screaming at US to go away (or at Harriet, after she has pinched her and drawn blood, which doesn’t really help matters). She will not sit down, ever. We are used to her standing on table tops and benches, but it makes other people nervous. She is attracted to the margins of things—she walks on walls, likes gutters and ditches. She walks on the grass beside the sidewalks, and picks the dandelions, and yesterday she discovered what happens when the dandelions seeds all blow apart—like magic—and the look on her face was pure ecstasy.

IMG_20150526_192215She is a funny one. Last week during dinner, it occurred to me that she looks like Anne Enright. “Iris is cuter than Anne Enright,” someone emailed me after, but I think that Anne Enright is adorable. They both look like a mischievous elf, or else a grumpy one. Iris has no idea that she is only two. She conducts long and elaborate conversations in gobbleygook while waving her hands emphatically. She can laugh and laugh at nothing, just eager to be in on the joke. (“Knock knock,” she says. “Who’s there?” we ask her. “Oofoo,” she says. “Oofoo Who?””Apple!”) She calls dogs “oeufs” and whenever she passes one, she says, “Allo oeuf.” She continues to have a French Canadian accent, and calls her sister ‘Arriette. She loves to sing Baa Baa Black Sheep, the Annie soundtrack, and Let It Go. She literally learned to sing before she could talk. She talks all the time now. She dances all the time too. She’s going to playschool in September and I think she’s going to love it.

irisShe also loves her birthday presents, being as passionate about tea, cakes and bunting as everyone else in our family. I love that her limited vocabulary contains the term “book barge.” She does her best to keep up with the big kids, and will not be pandered to—she eats EVERYTHING with a fork, because babies are often denied cutlery, to the point where she eats sandwiches and goldfish crackers with a fork. Do not put a lid on her glass of water either, though that is less because she doesn’t want to be pandered to than she wants to drop her bread in it and then drink the water with a spoon. And while she is the endless tormentor of her poor sister, she also adores her. Wants to go and find her first thing every morning (and not necessarily just to bite her). She has her own flower, and she knows it, though she is also quite insistent that pansies are irises too. She gives the best hugs, is quite the snuggler, adores her daddy, walks everywhere (but more often runs), likes ketchup, is a juice fiend, and is usually somewhere screaming for cake.

Two is a trial. I remember this. When Harriet was two, she had to be carried out of everywhere screaming, “More more more!” Iris is similarly passionate, but on a different keel. When she gets angry, she likes to hurl things to the floor. But two is also amazing—the onslaught of words that arrive, so that there are stories to tell, secrets share, and more jokes than just oofoo. It’s incredible to have a sense of how much better we’re going to get to know her over the next year—she’s going to have her own idea for a Halloween costume, I mean, and when she turns three, she’ll choose her birthday theme. (When Harriet was three, it was dinosaurs.) She’s going to be a person with tastes, beyond just the “cake cake cake” that’s her speed now. I am excited to discover them. I am also excited to trim her fingernails more often so that my skin doesn’t get so maimed in the midst of her rages.

While life certainly is not ALWAYS wonderful while Iris is in the world (she is so exasperating), it is completely wonderful on a  different level. As in, you are terrible, but you are here, and we love you. Sometimes it is really as simple as that.

January 3, 2015

Christmas Vacation

harrietOne of many reasons that members of our family are unlikely to ever take the world by storm is that our greatest talents really are for leisure—we’re experts at doing nothing, or just enough of something with requisite amounts of sofa-lying for good measure. We often visit cultural institutions such as museums and art galleries but rarely for more than an hour or two at a time, and never without a trip to the cafe AND the gift shop. Going out for lunch is our main occupation, and we always have dessert. We are really very good at enjoying ourselves, and so the last two weeks have been an absolute pleasure.

Two things: first, that I finished things up so that there was no work at all to be done for a week or so, and second, we turned off the internet. For a week, there was no checking of email or twitter, which opened up vast pockets of time in every day for all kinds of things—reading, playing, baking, carol-singing, and doing the Globe & Mail holiday crossword. On Tuesday we bought the newspaper because we were curious about what had gone on in the world, and it was odd to flip through the pages and discover news items we hadn’t heard about elsewhere.

windowWe spent the first couple of days of our holiday trying in vain to kick the cold that’s been embedded in our heads since the beginning of December. On the Sunday, we went down to the Bay on Queen Street to look at the Christmas windows, which were wonderful, and then went into the store and realized that department stores were the perfect way to reconcile our hatred of shopping malls with the joys of Christmas consumption (glittery lights, perfume smells, shopping bags with string handles, and 1 kilo tins of chocolate. Also, I now own tights without holes in the feet). Speeding home on the subway in time for Iris’s nap and for me to meet friends for an exquisite afternoon tea at Dessert Trends Bistro.

frankOn Monday, we went to the library (because holidaying doesn’t always have to happen on a lavish scale) and then had smoked meat lunch at Caplansky’s Deli. I also went out for dinner with my friends and drank far too much wine. On Tuesday, I don’t think we did anything, partly due to the wine. Throughout all of this, Stuart and I were watching movies and episodes of Midsomer Murders in the evening (because we are 85 years old) and Harriet watched How to Train Your Dragon Two during Iris’s nap times. On Christmas Eve, we went to the Art Gallery to see the Art Spiegelman exhibit and had a lovely brunch at the Frank Restaurant, which we save for the specialist of occasions. On the way home, we picked up our turkey, which we fastened into our stroller. That evening, we had chicken fajitas for Christmas Eve dinner for the 10th year in a row, and left a snack for Santa.

xmasmornChristmas was so good. Not only did we not have to leave the house, but we got to have my mom come and visit! The children got excellent presents and had fun playing with them throughout the holidays. I received great books, nice clothes, and other lovely things, including a La Cruset butter dish I’d been hankering after and new Pyrex. We all also received new CDs (because are 85 years old and like to do 20th century things) and so the holiday has been extra-filled with music—some of which was even made after 1987, which is very rare for us. My mom arrived and played with the children (which was not very difficult—she arrived bearing her present of a trunk full of dress-up clothes) while Stuart and I set about cooking the best Christmas dinner ever. The joys of Skype brought us the company of Nana and Granddad in England, and our adorable Alberta relations.

playOn Boxing Day, we went to the ROM, and partook in a yummy dinner of leftovers—Stuart makes the best turkey sandwiches on earth. Iris also slept until 7am for the first time in her whole life, which was mind-blowing, but also a bit terrible because when her sleep for the subsequent week was abysmal, I wanted to pitch her out the window. The next day, my dad and his partner arrived, and we all had an excellent time with them. And they played with the children while Stuart and I cooked up another very good meal—the greatest turkey pot pie of all time whose secret recipe was duck fat. The day after that,  we drove out to my aunt’s in the West end, stopping en-route to buy ice-skates for Harriet and I, which had the potential to be a boondoggle. And then we had a very fun dinner with the best kinds of relations on earth—cousins.

anniwMonday was the best day—Harriet and I headed downtown to meet our friend Erin and watch the new Annie film, which we’d been looking to after avidly viewing its trailers for the past month AND after watching the old Annie every day last summer. The reviews for the new Annie were terrible and all wrong—the movie was wonderful. (That one of the critics referred to the 1982 movie as “an abomination” perhaps suggests that some people had no business reviewing either movie, both of which were masterpieces, in my humble opinion.) We all had such a good time watching it, exuberantly applauding as the credits rolled. And then we met Stuart and Iris and took the subway to Erin’s new house in Bloor West Village, which is very conveniently located near the new Book City (which was bustling and full of wonderful books.)

On Tuesday, I had to take a certain someone to a dermatologists to have a wart examined, which wasn’t so memorable, except that we got to stop at HMV on the way and buy the Annie soundtrack, a move supported by all members of our household. Iris can now sing “Tomorrow”, which is really something to behold. We also love Sia’s version of “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” and the bizarre and catchy “Moonquake Lake”, with its memorable hook—”she’s a fish and he’s a boy.” That night our friends Jennie, Deep and Lilia came for dinner and the best time was had. They were kind enough not to complain about our music selection.

sk8Rumours of boondoggles were averted on New Years Eve when Harriet and I went skating at Christie Pits—Harriet had the best time and loved it, which was good but also troubling as it means that I have to keep going skating. We went again yesterday and both of us were vastly improved. A third jaunt is scheduled for tomorrow. New Years Eve was our traditional chocolate fondue and ringing in the UK New Year before the children went to bed. And then Stuart and I proceeded to play board games (and ping pong, until Harriet came out of her room and asked us to stop because the pinging and ponging was too noisy) until we were done, and then we went to bed and brought in the new year lit by bed-side lamps, turning away from our respective novels for a moment as the clock ticked over to 2015. Which is the best way to ring in the new that I could ever have imagined.

africaNew Years Day was boring—what a wondrous indulgence is that in this day and age? Although we did have our first meal of the year at Fanny Chadwick’s for brunch, which was delicious, and Iris has been transformed into someone who is fairly respectable about restaurant behaviour from all her practice this holiday. And Harriet and I got to play Scrabble for Juniors, which is almost as excellent as spending New Year’s reading in bed. Yesterday we went to the ROM to see the Wildlife Photography exhibit. And yes, more skating. Today we’re doing nothing, which might prove to be a bad idea but feels pretty good from where I sit (on the couch, wearing jogging pants, watching snow falling outside). We’ve kept things a little special with scones with jam and Devonshire cream, because I had a jar of the latter in the fridge and we had to use it up—not the worst task to be charged with.

teaAnd I’m writing it all down now mostly so that I can remember it, the holiday we were so desperate for and which so delivered. I’m writing it all down because all these ordinary things (libraries and lunches) are so easy to forget, and I don’t want to. I don’t want to forget either that we’re so blessed with friends and family and each other. If how you spend your days are indeed how you spend your life, then these past two weeks are an indication that we’re doing something right.  And it’s something to hold on to as the lights of December fade—let the next few months be something more than just a countdown to spring.

December 5, 2014

There comes a time…

IMG_20141106_165935There comes a time in every family’s life when their copy of Janet and Alan Ahlberg’s The Baby’s Catalogue needs replacing. “Uh oh,” said Iris, pointing to where the book had split in two, on the “Accidents” page, no less. Though we’d seen it coming—this was the book I took care to always have in my bag when Harriet was a baby, so that when Iris was born, the spine was already shredded, and she took great pleasure in furthering the damage herself. Until the whole thing had come to pieces.

It’s a turning point, and we’ve been encountering a lot of these lately. Iris turns 18 months old exactly today, and I’d forgotten what a huge turning point this age is. Her words are coming fast (and often furious): car, and truck, and yuck, and cheese, and banana, and please, and Mommy and Daddy and Hatty, and her grandmothers’ names, and shoes, and book, and most curiously of all is “hockey”. We have no idea where she learned that one. She loves cats and dogs and babies. I take her to the library baby program, where she ignores all programming and instead walks around the circle tickling the other babies’ feet.

irisShe sees the whole world as a series of climbable objects, and while her compulsive climbing instills fear in all those who love her, it’s true that she rarely ever falls. She knows the right techniques for capturing out attention: teetering on tabletops, screaming in quiet restaurants, and placing tiny objects inside her mouth with a defiant gleam in her eye. She gives excellent hugs, is a champion napper, has her teeth coming in in all the wrong order, and usually tries to give gentle touches instead of hitting and biting (though she doesn’t always succeed). She gets less bald with every passing day. She is at that age at which sitting at the table for more than three minutes at a time is impossible, so she comes and and goes. She just recently learned to jump. We adore her, and are blown away by how smart she is and her insistence on doing everything herself—well, even. But we’re never having another child, because our children seem to get increasingly Iris-ish with every one, and an Iris who out-Iris’d Iris might kill us. So we’re just content to love this one madly.

ADSC_0452nd then there is her very patient sister, who turned 5 and a half last week (which is 66 months old, for those of you keeping count). She continues to be excellent with just the right amount of naughtiness that we’re sure she’s a real child. She likes school and watching her learn to read is so exciting (and it’s also so exciting to see how useful Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books are in this process. We’ve enjoyed these books for years, and that such good books can also be the best reading tools is amazing). We’re reading Tom’s Midnight Garden at bedtime now, which is exciting because there’s a literary Harriet in it, and also because it’s the second book I read right after she was born, a time I was thinking about last night as Tom and his Uncle discussed there not being just one time but instead all different kinds of time (and his Aunt pointing out that it all leads to indigestion—it’s such a good book!). Harriet has reached this marvellous age where she wants to be helpful, and she actually is. I like her so very much, and adore her company. It’s not a lie when I tell her that picking her up at kindergarten is the very best part of my day. (Well, after bedtime, of course).

IMG_20141120_165025Technically, now that Iris is 18 months old, there’s no resident baby at our house anymore (though I don’t believe this, of course, and Iris’s baldness is permitting the illusion to be sustained). Just because we’re running low on babies though doesn’t mean we don’t still need a copy of The Baby’s Catalogue, so we bought another one, a pristine edition that is sure to get a bit battered, but probably not as battered as its predecessor. This wonderful book is full of the ordinary moments—all the incidents and accidents—of ordinary family life, and it’s such a part of ours.

I hope it always will be.

October 26, 2014

Would-Be Pickler Tries Nathan’s Famous

IMG_0896In my blogging course last Monday, we were talking about blog titles, and I conceded that there was probably an expert out there who—for SEO purposes and issues of general confusion—would advise you not to call your book blog Pickle Me This. But the problem with expert advice (and why expert advice so often doesn’t work for blogs, which are characterized by their refusal to conform to expectations) is that such advice cannot take into account the forces of serendipity.

For example: You christen your blog “Pickle Me This” for no good reason in 2004, thereby enabling a delivery of actual pickles to land on your doorstep a decade later.

IMG_0897Except that there was a reason I named my blog Pickle Me This. Not a good one, but still.

In 2004, I lived in Japan teaching English conversation to students with whom I usually had very little in common. This lack of commonality made our English conversation challenging. “What is your hobby?” became a conversation touchstone when all else had failed, mostly because the Japanese school system mandated that every student have a hobby. (Those students who were bad at everything usually ended up on sports teams charged with carrying equipment.) Bored housewives were also hobby connoisseurs, with interests including tea ceremonies, ikebana, and calligraphy, though more often than not, their answer to the hobbies question was “learning English,” which brought us full (albeit very small) circle, and made the minutes on our classroom clock tick by oh-so slowly.

IMG_0901Living in Japan does something to the brain. To this day, all my favourite music is basically assembled from karaoke playlists, I was photographing my lunch before it was cool, and I’m still inclined to squeal, “Kawaii!” when the situation warrants it. Part of becoming “Japanified” was responding the experience of living abroad and discovering how wide the world was, all the while we were cut off from the culture around us by being foreigners. We forgot how to form proper sentences, how to behave, and partook in strange pursuits to the fill the gaps that had appeared in our lives now that they were being conducted so far from home.

IMG_0903In 2004, I decided that I would learn how to pickle. This would be the beginning of something huge, I imagined. In Japan, anything was possible. I was picturing a sizeable cottage industry, adorable labels. They would say, “Pickle Me This,” the name of my company. One of my students—an avid pickler—wanted to support my ambitions and went as far as to give me a gift of pickling spice she’d made herself. “I want you to be a pickle success!” she told me.

IMG_0904Except that I was a pickling disaster. Granted, a lot was working against me. My entire kitchen was a hot plate, and I didn’t own a measuring cup. I was illiterate, so could not read food labels to know what kind of vinegar I was employing for my pickling task (if it was vinegar at all). I had no culinary skills then, and struggled with following simple recipes, whose advice, I decided, was usually just a helpful suggestion, as I slung a fistful of something or other into my pot. In Japan, we ate spaghetti sauce that came out of pouches, and I thought that was just fine. So the precision involved in pickling was well beyond my ken.

IMG_0898You can actually track the trajectory of my very short pickling career, which began with a blog post called “Are Pickles Supposed to Float?” and proceeded on to a post called “Dubious Pickles” the very next day, reporting that the pickles were shrivelling up in their jar. I don’t remember what happened to the pickles after that, but it is quite possible that I insisted on eating them even though they were vile and probably laced with botulism. I have a hard time admitting when my plans have gone wrong. I am a specialist in Stubborn as You Like. But I never made pickles again.

IMG_0902I’ve called myself a “would-be pickler” in the years since, usually in the bio on the blog that was christened Pickle Me This not long after my failed venture. This blog as been much more successful than the pickles, proving that you can’t win ’em all, but also that just because you lose some doesn’t mean it’s all lost. I was always going to be a better blogger than a pickler anyway. Accepting being so far from perfect is probably one reason I’ve been able to do so well as a blogger too, the pickles were certainly a fundamental lesson in that respect.

IMG_0882One consolation of failed pickledom is that it doesn’t keep one from eating pickles. Another consolation of failed pickledom is actual pickles on the doorstep from Nathan’s Famous, which are launching in Canada and are available in the refrigerated meat cooler sections at No Frills, Loblaws, and other grocery stores. Because a blog called Pickle Me This comes out on top when PR firms are searching for Canadian blogs about pickles. Perhaps this was part of my plan all along?

IMG_0880So we’ve been eating pickles all weekend, revelling in the bounty. I’m a bit crazy about the sweet horseradish pickles, though it’s possible I never met a sweet pickle I didn’t like. The sour and half sour are huge and full of crunch and flavour. Iris insists on eating them too, even though she makes the most ridiculous faces while doing so, but she keeps coming back for another bite, and so do I, because they’re good pickles.

And maybe you have to have been responsible for bad pickles to do know how precious a good pickle really is.

(Thanks to the people at Foodfest America for making my pickle dreams come true.) 

September 19, 2014

Iris is the solution to everything

booksIris is the solution to everything, namely if your “everything” is getting away with the world’s most paltry book haul from the Victoria College Book Sale (which runs all weekend). And my everything was certainly that very thing this morning, because I have so many books and the bookstore called me yesterday to let me know my order is in, plus the one I bought online yesterday direct from the publisher etc, so I didn’t need any more. So this is all I came away with, which I am quite pleased about, because under most circumstances I have absolutely no restraint.

I’d come prepared with a cookie and a cinnamon bun, hoping these would keep Iris occupied for a little while, and they did, for about 10 minutes, as she snacked in her stroller. But then she wanted out, which she demonstrated by screaming and screaming, because Iris has recently come into her own as a piercing soprano. I ignored her for a little while, and tried to pretend there was nobody else around. And then finally, I took her out and put her in her carrier, browsing continued, popping a “dumma” (soother) into her mouth, but that peace lasted no more than sixty seconds. Who screams while sucking on a soother? But Iris wanted to go, so I let her, and that was okay, because underneath the book tables were boxes and boxes and more books, and Iris likes things in boxes, and I got to look at a whole bunch more books while she played with a box of Goosebumps paperbacks (hence my excellent picture book selection).

And then I took her upstairs to the fiction, which had no boxes under the tables at all, and she was obsessed with the big old staircase that we’d had to climb to get up there, so every time she was let loose, that was where she headed. A brief diversion was a wastebasket, and I let it go for awhile, but then she started picking things out of that box, so I shut it down. I had to hold her, and she was screaming and screaming. Again, I kept my head down and ignored everybody. Surely, I thought, they’d understand that a mother needs to get her book browsing done. A smart trick was holding Iris upside down, which was funny, so she laughed instead of screamed, but that only goes so far, and it made it hard to look for books. And so she kept on screaming, and I think some people may not have found it so charming, but what is a bookish mother to do, I ask you? Well, give up, which I eventually did, but only because I had no business buying books in the first place.

As I was leaving, a very earnest undergrad came up to me and pointed to Iris, who had since calmed down, because we were no longer looking at books. “Is that the baby that was unhappy?” she asked. Apparently Iris was getting a reputation. “Is she okay?” she asked me. “Well, she’s Iris,” I should have told her, but instead I promised her that she was. Whereupon we met my seven-months-pregnant friend and her two-year-old who’d turned an Old Vic couch into a trampoline. I am not sure the book sale is going to recover from a visit from the likes of us.

September 1, 2014

This is a bad idea

IMG_20140830_121723Just a little over two years ago, we took Harriet to Centre Island, and watched her go around on the little boat ride, ringing the bell and looking happy enough, but sitting alone in her little boat, while the other boats were filled with pairs of siblings. It was a pivotal moment, watching her ride by herself, one that cemented the fact that we were probably going to go forth and have another baby. For Harriet’s sake as much as ours, because Stuart and I are both so glad we have sisters, and we wanted to give Harriet a similar relationship. Because we wanted her to have someone to ride the rides with.

Never mind the absurdity that sometimes things really do work out so neatly—we were grateful that nature delivered us the baby we’d planned on. A healthy happy baby too, and also that Iris and Harriet already have such a close relationship. (I’d considered the irony of possibly delivering Harriet a sister who she’d hate, or who might destroy her life, in addition to just pulling her hair. I read too much literary fiction…) I will never cease to be amazed at the fact of getting what I wanted, and so it meant something to have travelled though all these weeks and months and come back to the island this weekend. Harriet and Iris rode around in their little boat together, and was hugely significant. The first ride of many.

But of course, that’s not the whole story. I haven’t told you the funny part. We were lined up for the ride and both Stuart and I sensing that this was really not the smartest plan. Iris can walk, which means that technically she’d be permitted on the ride, but Iris is only 15 months old, and is small so she looks younger than she is, so the attendant looked wary when Stuart led Iris and Harriet  through the turnstile.

“I think she’s too young,” she told Stuart, about Iris.

IMG_20140830_121708And Stuart became even less characteristically un-English than usual, throwing caution to the wind and standing up to carnival authority (although he had stood patiently in the queue.)

“Nope,” he said, “she’ll be fine.” He put her on the ride anyway. He is not sure why he did this exactly, except that he had a vague sense that I’d be angry if Iris didn’t get to ride the ride as I’d envisioned. We’d travelled over 700 days to get here after all. It would be terrible not to have a photo to show for it.

So Iris was in the boat, and the attendant told Harriet to make sure she stayed seated. The ride began, and it was good for a round or two. Iris rang the bell, spun the steering wheel, and was thoroughly enjoying herself. I snapped the photos. They could have been the whole story. Until it became apparent to Iris that she was untethered. She stood up. “Iris, sit down,” said Harriet, shoving her back into her seat. They go by us again. We wave. Iris stands up again. “Sit down, Iris,” Harriet is shouting now, and trying to get Iris in a headlock. Iris starts to cry. We’re still waving. Everybody is looking at our children. Who pass the remainder of the ride with Iris crying as they turned round and round, Harriet shouting, “This is a bad idea! This is a very bad idea!”

August 27, 2014

Big Shoes

shoesThe last few days have been huge for Iris, who is just a week shy of being 15 months old. She spent about four days straight sleeping until at least 4am (and one day until 6:00, which was massive, but then we had to contend with being up at 6:00. At least when she wakes up at 4:00, I can bring her to bed until the alarm goes off…) and, most dramatically, after 8 months of only ever wanting to read Little You by Richard Van Camp (and hey, if you’re going to read 1 book 948 times this year, let this one be the one…), she’s become obsessed with I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen—she likes his illustrations of the bear. Lately. she’s also really into Jack and the Box by Art Speigelman, which she thinks is terribly funny, and she’s right. So Iris is proving herself to be quite discerning in her literary tastes, never mind her affinity for any bookish translation of The Wheels on the Bus.

It is exciting to see her own tastes developing. Though we’ve known for a long time that she loves the CD Throw a Penny In the Wishing Well by Jennifer Gasoi, because she started dancing the first time she heard it, which was also the first time we learned that she knew how to dance, but now she listens to the song, “Happy”, and sings along, and then walks around the house saying, “Hap-pee. Hap-pee.” One of the few words she knows—though she added another tonight at the Farmer’s Market when she exclaimed, “Cheese,” in pursuit of a sample. She got one.

She doesn’t know that she’s a baby. She thinks that she can read, and opens books, thumbing through them and muttering as the flips through the pages, or maybe she thinks that we think she can read, and we’ll let her think that. Her dignity is very important. She also insists on china plates and cutlery for all her meals, and she wields a fork like a champion. It’s a bit eerie to be in her company, because she seems to be watching us too carefully—whenever I fiddle with my hair, she does the same with the fluff on her skull. She watched her dad dry his hair the other morning, and then grabbed a hand towel and dried hers too. She has new shoes (see photo), and insists on wearing them everywhere, and fetching them before we go somewhere is her favourite part of any outing, I think. When we arrive back home, she sits down to take them off, and nobody ever taught her to do that. In fact, nobody has ever taught her anything, but she keeps knowing new things all the time, blowing her own mind, and our minds, every single day.

June 5, 2014

A Year of Iris

IMG_20130605_154726

This whole week has been rife with “one year ago” nostalgia, the disbelief that so much time has passed, that it’s all gone so fast, and that there ever was a time when we didn’t have an Iris. And it is astounding to have a record of my first glimpse of her, a baby who looked nothing like anyone I’d ever seen, certainly not like her sister, who I’d sort of assumed was a baby template. But no, because here was someone else, someone entirely different, utterly herself. I was able to love her immediately, even as I understood that I didn’t know her at all.

While I feel as though I’ve always had an understanding of Harriet, that if I could have dreamed up a daughter she would have been just the one, Iris has been a mystery to me. She’s kept us guessing–she was born with a tooth, and then another by 3 months, and has yet to have any more. She’s had weird ailments that made us regular visitors at the Emergency Room this winter, and none of them have been either serious or straightforward. She’s very small, her weight in the low percentiles since 3 months of age, and while her weight went up at her 9 month visit, her height was down and she was in the third percentile. “Third?” I asked for clarification, thinking this put her in the bottom 30%, but no, it was the bottom 3. We track our girls’ heights on a doorframe in our house, and Iris is so much smaller than Harriet was at this age. And it’s all so different from my first baby, who was big and bruising and never got sick. And yet…

Iris can walk! Only single steps for now, but she has pretty much mastered pulling herself up to standing without support. She has been crawling for months, speeding across the floor, up flights of stairs, and across the sandbox, and the playground, and Harriet’s classroom, and pretty much anywhere. Iris is at home in the world. She can be jolly and happy, and she laughs and laughs, but has a scream that’s the definition of bloodcurdling. She will rarely consent to have anyone hold her, except her parents, but if you give her time and space, she’ll warm to you. She likes to play with balls and flips through books and if you put on music, she will do the shaky bum bum dance. She has learned to safely get down from furniture and the step in our hallway, and has never fallen. Somewhat recklessly, she has the ability to turn anything into a potential noose. Her favourite joke is blowing raspberries on people’s bare skin. She is an expert at blowing kissing too, and waving, and clapping, and in the last day or so, we’ve begun to suspect that Iris can talk. She can say, “Bye bye”, and “dog” and “Daddy” and sing, “Happy Birthday” (which sounds a bit like, “Apa buh”). She is absolutely in love with her sister, and the two of them now get up to all kinds of tricks, and they make one and other laugh and laugh, and their relationship makes me happy. I am also fascinated by the fact that it has nothing to do with me.

Iris has been up to all kinds of adventures this year. She’s taken two journeys on a plane, another on a train, and plenty of road trips. She has loved our co-op shifts at playschool and has been so welcomed there that she thinks it’s her school too. She’s had afternoon tea at the Windsor Arms, and been out for all kinds of brunches, lunches and dinners. Last Friday, she tried sushi for the first time, and discovered an affinity for edamame. On Sunday, we had our first experience of going out for ice cream and ordering four cones. She likes to hang out at the park and eat sand, and if you try to take her out of the swing, she will scream at you. She likes the slide. She likes looking out the window. She likes to open cupboard doors, get her fingers stuck in drawers, and often won’t eat her dinner until you take her out of her high chair and then she’ll eat what she’s just thrown on the floor. She’s big into eating paper and I once found a googly eye in her diaper. She is still really enthusiastic about pushing the button to change the traffic signals before we cross the street. And once we’ve crossed the street too. And if we just happen to be walking by one. And she loves climbing, her latest trick involving standing up on her rocking chair and then rocking it perilously. Her favourite book is Little You by Richard Van Camp and her Wonder Woman Board Book. She likes turning pages more than she likes listening to stories. She likes it when I play guitar, but mostly because she wants to put things in the hole. She is always game for a round of “Row Row Row Your Boat.”

She’s terrible at sleeping, and only naps on people, which has its benefits and drawbacks. Ever since I met her, I’ve been ridiculously tired, but I’ve also been ridiculously happy, so pleased and grateful to have the family I want to have. (To be finished having babies too.) I am grateful too for the gift of having learned to appreciate babies, an ability that was lost on me when Harriet was small. I am grateful that this really has been something of a do-over and that I had a chance to appreciate what they mean when they all tell us to enjoy every minute. I would never have believed it, but for the most part, enjoy it I really really did.

Happy Birthday to our beautiful girl! How wonderful life is now you’re in the world.

Iris

 

April 30, 2014

Things About Iris at Nearly 11 Months

iris1) Very interested in dogs and squirrels. Points to them as we walk down the street, and says, “eeggh”.

2) When you ask her where something is, she answers by pointing to a photo on the wall. Doesn’t seem to understand that reality is out in the room in all three dimensions.

3) Perhaps related to above, but obsessed with baby photos of her and her sister which hang in the hall.

4) Obsessed with traffic signal buttons at intersection. Must press the button every time we cross the street. Also wants to push the button on the other side, and sometimes cries when I don’t let her.

5) Likes to throw my Mitford books (conveniently situated at Iris height) onto the floor. Debo seems to be her favourite.

6) She eats pom-poms, toilet paper, and things we bring into the house on our shoes.

7) She has just started fake-laughing when she heard others laughing. It is terribly funny.

8) Probably should have been taught baby sign language because she just screams to get what she wants, and it’s so so terrible.

9) Is very soon going to have to be bought her own ice cream cone, as she is very crap at sharing.

10) Thinks she is 4.

March 31, 2014

The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower

forceOver and over again lately, the first line (which is also the title) of Dylan Thomas’s poem has been running through my mind: “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower…” though not the rest of the poem, obviously. When spring finally arrives, one is allowed not to think things totally through to their logical conclusions. Though I sort of do, feeling a slight dread at the green creeping up through the soil–because first it’s crocuses and then forsythia, and irises (!), then full summer green, then the summer green that all gets to be a bit too much as weeds appear through the cracks in the pavement, and then and then and then. See, the crocuses aren’t even properly here, and I’m killing them already. The force, indeed. Isn’t it curious how winter always seems eternal while summer is a moment in time? Though apart from its joys, winter is mainly trudging about in heavy boots, the force itself remaining dormant.

But no, let’s start again. The force has driven the green fuse up from the ground. It is spring! It is spring! And while last spring felt full of the force, as we waited for our baby to arrive, it’s got nothing on this spring. Speaking of force. Speaking of Irises. I set her on the ground and she charges: go! go! go! And: grow! grow! grow! As if the rhyming words were interchangeable, which, if one is a 10-month-old baby, they sort of are. So she goes, driven. To crawl, to stand, to climb. After a tumble from the second step, our baby gates went up Saturday night. How can this be happening already? My incredulity partly because a second child’s first year goes by in the span of a few weeks, but also because, with Harriet, the gates were never entirely necessary. She was one of those babies of whom parents say, “I think she’s going to skip crawling,” in order to excuse the baby’s sluggishness. She had a force of course, oh yes she did, but it wasn’t physical propulsion. Whereas Iris is a blur.

Tomorrow is April. On Saturday, I went out and got my hair cut after nearly a year, and got my eyebrows waxed, and then went to Futures Bakery and drank a chai latte BY MYSELF whilst reading Jane Gardam’s Last Friends, which was so so wonderful, and so was the moment. There was no force. I’ve never been so much in the now, and it was such a commemoration of that day exactly a year ago when I took myself out for lunch just one last time, knowing that would be ages before I could afford such luxury of time and aloneness again. But we’re here! We made it. The journey so much smoother than I’d ever dared to suppose.

But it’s not the end, of course, oh no. The force keeps forcing onward, going and growing. The former the given and the latter the point.

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Mitzi Bytes

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